Chef Marie-Chantal Lepage says attitude and determination are the two most important ingredients in her recipe for success. Since breaking into the industry with unstoppable confidence in her late teens, the self-taught chef has had many chapters in her career, which spans 40 years and counting.
In the beginning, Lepage worked alongside renowned chef Serge Bruyère, a prominent figure in Quebec’s culinary scene. In 1994, she became executive chef at Manoir Montmorency and 10 years later opened her own restaurant, Espace MC Chef, followed by Singé MC Lepage in 2015. She has also worked at the Quebec National Museum of Fine Arts’ signature restaurant as well as at the Le Bonne Entente hotel. Most recently, Lepage was appointed executive chef at Hilton Quebec’s CABU boire et manger restaurant.
CABU boire et manger restaurant is named in honour of Caboulots, which were small ephemeral shacks on the St. Lawrence River’s ice bridge in the 19th century that allowed inhabitants to enjoy a natural connection between villages.
“The concept is to re-create this feeling of connecting people together around good food and making them discover local flavours with anecdotes,” explains Lepage. “With each menu, I tell the story of my creations and inspirations. That’s why we say, ‘CABU: A story behind each bite.’”
Soon, CABU boire et manger restaurant will debut its brand new menu from Lepage. When asked to describe her culinary style, Lepage says she “likes to keep things simple and savory, yet I want it to be spectacular. I like to feature the produce at its very best. Keep the essence of flavour.”
For now, guests can still enjoy the restaurant bar and a light menu. “I’m currently making the final adjustments to our à-la-carte menu,” says Lepage. “I recently fell in love with whelks and surf clams produced by the Crabier du nord, located on Quebec’s North Shore Crabber. I have a crazy idea for this product, something completely different. I can’t tell you more about it right now, but I can’t wait to unveil it.”
Initially, Lepage didn’t know what her end game was going to be. “Life is full of surprises. Working in a restaurant was supposed to be temporary,” she says. “When I started in 1982, there were no (or very few) women working in kitchens of high-end restaurants. Some restaurants wouldn’t hire me because I was a woman. I was told that it was quite ‘usual’ to see women in the kitchen. You don’t say things like that to me twice. I spent my whole career proving them wrong.”
To this day, Lepage is the only woman named National Chef of the Year for the Société Cuisinier Pâtissiers du Québec (SCCPQ). “I know that I have paved the way for many women in the kitchen,” says Lepage. “This reward was truly an honour because it’s not a committee that determines the winner, it’s a vote. All the chefs throughout the province vote for who they feel should win.”
By Nicole Di Tomasso